working + writing with women


Parenting with the Serenity Prayer

Parenting is the constant serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Lately most things for me, in parenting, fall in the first category—the things I cannot change. So I have been calling a lot on wisdom and serenity:

I accept the dirty car and endless crumbs. I accept the teeth-turned-blue from candy I would never, ever want to eat. I accept the not-me-ness of my child, the deep and profound differences that make it more and more clear each day that I have (as they told me I would) produced a person who is completely his own.

Now, more than ever before, I have to continually let go of my control in parenting. He's 11, nearing 12. He is on a Little League team, and he seems so much younger than many of the boys. He seems not as good as lots of them. Yesterday at his game he began running from 2nd to 3rd base on a hit, and then for some reason decided to turn back, and return to 2nd base. As his mother, I saw the confusion in his body from the people yelling about the hit, the fielder who caught and dropped it, and how it was hard for him to see. He was trying to process it all, and that was how he did it. I know why it happened, but on the outside it just seemed painfully awkward. I felt a physical pull to protect him from the embarrassment, I felt a physical desire that I had preemptively taught him whatever it was I should have taught him so that he felt more confident right there. I felt so attached to the whole thing.

Again: Serenity. Grace. The only way he can learn is by doing. His process is not my process. Likewise, I can't experience things for him. The days of absorbing emotional elements for the sake of my child are gone.

When I was in labor, the nurses wanted to put antibiotics in my IV because my strep test had not been completed and my water broke early, putting the baby at higher risk of infection. I resisted. They told me the antibiotics could go in my IV, or in the baby when he came out. I scowled and told them to put them in my IV. That was the last time I was able to absorb a physical substance for him and still transmute it for him. I was able to "lessen the blow," in a sense. My body would process the antibiotics before his did.

Breastfeeding, of course, continues this in a similar form: we pass on nutrients to our babies through our own bodies (though we also pass on toxins—ah, the irony). And then there's the time where we carry them—we shield them from light, from mean people, from bad situations. We pick them up and pluck them right out of any interaction we want. We take responsibility for their actions, for years and years, because they are our trainees. Our representatives.

 Now I don't think I really need to take responsibility for his actions anymore. In fact, I know I don't. I am not responsible for his learning now; he's on to other teachers and ways of learning. I am, of course, still the support team and home base. I'm just not the main steez anymore. Now it's all about my grace, wisdom and courage so that he can have a sturdy place to keep growing up up up and away.

With small children, I think it's easy to get caught up in this idea of prevention. I know I did. Like if we prevent the thing from happening, we have done something good, a service. If we prevent them from falling, prevent them from hitting the other child, prevent them from melting down, and so on, then we have taught them a lesson (we haven't: we actually interrupted the lesson and delayed it from being learned). There are plenty of situations where this prevention is entirely appropriate and beneficial, but there are also lots of situations where it's not. And I'm learning that now in a really hands-on kind of way. Now it's not about preventing the fall. Now it's about letting him fall so that he can stop being afraid of falling. It's such a tired metaphor, but it couldn't be more true: Nothing eradicates the fear of falling better than the fall itself.

Today on the way to school he almost fell off his bike. I saw the terror flash in his eyes. He caught himself. But tomorrow he's riding to school without me. If he falls, he's on his own.